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Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.netYear-end employee reviews or evaluations — as a manager or business owner, you might be dreading them more than your team members. Figuring out what to say to your employees, especially employees who might not be performing at the level you’d like, can be challenging. You don’t want to drag them down by focusing on the negative. But, at the same time, you don’t want to sweep major issues under the rug in an attempt to keep everyone happy.

Employee evaluations are important, though, as they help you fix problems before they become major. Your team can learn a lot from their annual reviews. For some employees, these reviews can be a chance to make sure everyone is on the same page and to discuss their career goals. These tips will help you make the most of your year-end evaluations.

Prepare in Advance

There can be the temptation to just “wing it” when it comes to employee evaluations and to go into the review relatively unprepared. But you and your team members will get the most from the evaluations if you approach them like any other work project and do some advance preparation work. The last thing you want is to get into a meeting with a team member and completely blank on what you wanted to discuss with him or her.

Preparing for the evaluation can take several forms. If the employee has been with the company for more than a year, you can look at notes from past reviews to refresh your memory of what you discussed or to get an idea of what was discussed if you didn’t conduct the evaluation. Another option is to speak with the employee’s direct supervisors and others who work closely with him or her to get an idea of overall performance.

You might also ask each employee to complete a self-evaluation, which can give you an idea of where they stand or how they think they are doing. There might be differences between how they think they are performing and how other members of your team perceive them. You can address those differences during the evaluation.

Remember not to focus solely on the negative during a review, even if the employee is struggling. You should be able to find at least one positive thing to say about him or her — otherwise, why would you keep the employee on?

Keep it Conversational

Evaluations and reviews should be conversations you have with individual employees, not monologues. You want to give the employee as much a chance to speak as you have, while being careful not to let him or her dominate the discussion. Ask open ended questions about things the employee could do better. Present the evaluation as an opportunity for the two of you to work together to help the employee succeed or continue to succeed at your company.

Focus on a Plan for Employee Growth

The review at the end of the year is a great time to work with your team members on a plan for growth. Specifically, you want them to map out a plan for their own growth. That can mean outlining a couple of goals to work towards in the year to come as well as looking further into the future and making a plan for long-term goals. It might be helpful to ask your employees to come to the meeting with a list of goals for the next year. You can also look at last year’s review to get a sense of what your employee’s plans for growth were then.

Make a Plan for the Year Ahead

Don’t let the review end with out briefly sketching out a plan for the upcoming year. Pencil in check in meetings a few months in the future (such as at the end of winter or end of spring), so that you can touch base with each employee and see how they are doing with various goals. The check in meeting can also be a chance to address any ongoing issues with your team members or to note any positive changes in their performance.

Employee evaluations are just one thing to check off your end-of-the-year to-do list. To learn more about how a virtual CFO can help you prepare the upcoming year, contact New Direction Capital today.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Few people relish the idea of telling someone they’re doing something wrong or that there’s room for improvement. But if your employees don’t receive  constructive criticism, they’ll have no idea where they can improve or if they aren’t doing something correctly, which can have a negative impact on your company’s growth. Giving negative feedback doesn’t have to be something you or other leaders at your company dread.  If you let your emotional intelligence, or EQ, guide you, you might find that giving constructive criticism becomes a positive experience for your employees and for you.

Get the Timing Right

When’s the best time to offer an employee feedback? Ideally right after you notice a certain behavior or right after a presentation or other project is completed. If you delay offering the feedback, it might be difficult for you or the employee to remember exactly what you’re talking about. Delivering feedback at the right time is essential whether you have something positive to say or something constructive to offer.

Make the Feedback Process a Conversation

Delivering feedback to an employee shouldn’t be a monologue. Remember that he or she is a person and has his or her own thoughts and feelings. One way to ease into a feedback conversation is to pass the ball to your employee. Ask him or her how he or she thought a project or presentation went or, if you’re conducting a performance review, ask him or her what areas need improvement or what his or her weaknesses are.

If your employee mentions specific things, listen to what those area, then start your feedback discussion by ask how he or she thinks those areas can be improved. Even if you have different areas you want to focus on, it’s important to make sure you listen to your employee’s concerns.

Be Specific

Vague feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, is pretty much useless feedback. You might think you’re helping out an employee by telling him or her “great job!” or “really nice work!” But if you don’t explain what was a good job or why, you’re not giving your employee much to go on. He or she won’t know exactly what it is he or she should keep doing.

The same is true for negative feedback. A comment such as “you seemed nervous” doesn’t help an employee very  much. If you think someone seemed nervous during their presentation, explain why. It might have been because he or she kept fidgeting or pushing hair away from his or her face, for example.

Make It About You

How you phrase feedback can make it either sound like a personal attack, causing a person to get defensive, or it can make it sound like a fact, something that you can work on together. When you make constructive feedback about yourself, you shift some of the blame away from the employee and turn the criticism into something he or she can’t argue with. For example, if you say, “when you were fidgeting during your presentation, I felt that you didn’t want to be there,” you make an assumption about your team member, which he or she can refute.

But if you say, “when you kept pushing your hair to the side during your presentation, I felt distracted,” you tell the employee how his or her actions affected your perception of the presentation.

Consider the Compliment Sandwich, But Don’t Rely On It

The compliment sandwich, offering positive feedback, followed by constructive, then followed by positive again, is a common technique used by managers to let their employees know when something needs to change. The technique is so common that employees can smell it coming from a mile away.

That said, you can still use it, but keep in mind that you don’t always have to. Sometimes, offering positive feedback on its own is the way to go. At other times, your employee might benefit from only hearing the constructive feedback.

The team at New Direction Capital understands the importance of building and managing positive relationships with your employees. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your company weather any growing pains.

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Image courtesy of freebieshutterb at FreeDigitalPhotos.netAs business and the world becomes more and more connected, the risk for data breaches increases. In 2016, half of all small businesses in a survey experienced a data breach over the course of 12 months. Data breaches aren’t only common, they are expensive. The average breach costs more than $7 million, according to Business Insider.

Knowing what to do to minimize the risk of a data breach is just part of the solution. Your company also needs to have a plan for what to do in the event that a breach does happen. Following these four steps will help your company contain the breach and minimize the damage caused by it.

Stop the Breach

The first thing your company should do if a data breach occurs is make every effort to stop the breach. You don’t want your business to be the victim of multiple attacks, nor to you want to have the private information about your customers out there for any hacker or criminal to see. Putting an end to the breach usually involves several steps. You may need to change the network you are using or take certain equipment offline, to cut off the access the hackers have to the files. You’ll most likely need to change passwords and scour the web to see if there is any confidential information out there about your company, which might have made it easy for the hackers to get in.

At this point, you’ll also want to bring in a legal team to keep you updated about your rights and responsibilities after the breach, as well as a team to look into the cause of the breach.

Examine What Caused the Breach

Several things can put your business at risk for a data breach, including employees who don’t know the basics of security or who don’t understand the importance of strong passwords. In some cases, software malfunctions can be responsible for a data leak. Knowing what caused the breach is essential, as it will help your company determine the best way to stop it and the best way to correct any vulnerabilities that put your company at risk.

Tell Anyone Who is Affected

According to the FTC, in most parts of the US, a business has a legal obligation to notify people affected by a data leak. Even if your business is based in a state where notification isn’t required, it’s in the best interests of your company to tell those affected. You’ll also want to let the police know about the incident. You might also want to let the FBI know about it, depending on the size of the breach and the experience of your local police force.

In many cases, you’ll also need to tell credit card companies or financial institutions about the incident. Since those companies handle the accounts of people who might have been affected, it will be their responsibility to monitor certain accounts for suspicious activity or fraud.

It’s not enough to just tell individuals about the data breach. Your company should also offer some guidance and assistance helping people figure out what to do next. Let people know the extent of the breach and what data might have been compromised. For example, if a person’s credit card number was revealed, the next step would be to shut down that card and issue another one. But more steps need to be taken if a person’s social security number is compromised, since hackers can use those numbers to open new accounts or to commit tax theft.

Go Into Damage Control Mode

How your business responds to a data breach can sink it or help it stay afloat. It’s important to be there for the people affected by the breach and to offer as much support and guidance as you can. For example, your company might consider paying for credit monitoring or a credit freeze for the people who’s information got leaked. It’s also a good idea to offer individuals affected by the leak multiple ways to get in touch with your business and to ask questions.

Perhaps most importantly, you want to tell the public what you’ll do to keep a breach from happening again. Regaining the trust of your clients can make or break your business after a data breach.

A data breach doesn’t just harm your company’s reputation. It can also have a negative effect on your business’ finances. To learn more about how to manage your company’s finances to prepare for a potential breach, contact New Direction Capital today.

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Image courtesy of jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.netWhen an employee who was once one of your company’s top performers, who always seemed to have the best ideas, suddenly stops bringing his or her A-game or suddenly seems apathetic about the work, what’s changed? It’s most likely burnout, a combination of factors that can turn your best employees into your worst employees. Burnout often stems from high stress levels, exhaustion and boredom.

Although there are many contributing factors to burnout, the thing that’s important to remember is that it’s not inevitable. There are things you can do to help your employees stay engaged on the job and to help them avoid burning out.

Don’t Overburden Your Team

When your employees have too much on their respective plates, such as lengthy to-do lists or enough work to keep them in the office well past dinner time on the weeknights or that makes them come in on the weekends, they’re going to be more likely to burnout, due to sheer exhaustion. If your team regularly stays late or often looks panicked or concerned that they just won’t finish all of their tasks, it might be time to re-evaluate the size of your staff or the number of tasks you assign each person.

It might be that hiring a new employee or two is the way to go, so that you can better distribute the workload. If hiring full-time people isn’t in your company’s budget at the moment, another option is to outsource certain tasks or responsibilities. For example, it might get to the point where it makes more sense to work with a virtual CFO when it comes to managing your business’ financials, rather than expecting one of your employees to take on that work.

Encourage Them to Follow Their Interests

Boredom and lack of interest on the job often leads to burnout. Maybe your top employee started doing the drudge work months ago or when he or she first started and never stopped. Now, those menial tasks might have become his or her responsibility, even though they are keeping him or her from doing the work that’s genuinely interesting. Checking in with your employees every so often to make sure that the projects and tasks they are working on are actually exciting and challenging for them willl help you avoid having a team of apathetic, burned out employees on your hands.

Include Breaks in the Schedule

Make time off and breaks a part of each employee’s schedule. Don’t just encourage your team to take a lunch or to pause every few hours for a break. Implement a schedule that makes breaks a part of your work culture. That can mean having a designated time for lunch for everyone, every day or having a 15-minute company-wide coffee or tea break in the middle of the morning or in the afternoon. If many members of your team watch the same TV show, make a discussion half hour part of the workday the morning after the show airs. Making breaks a part of your company culture doesn’t only encourage your team to rest, it can also help to build morale.

Offer Incentives and Rewards

Another common reason for burnout is that employees just don’t feel appreciated. They might burn the candle at both ends, only to feel that their bosses or superiors aren’t taking notice or don’t care about their work. Employees might feel under or unappreciated for a few reasons. They might feel that their salary isn’t commensurate with the amount of work they put in. They might not see the point of the work they do or might feel that it’s not respected or valued. Or, they might feel that no matter how much they do, it’s not appreciated by the company as a whole.

The rewards you offer employees don’t have to be major.  Free food is often a great motivator, for example. Taking the time out to tell your team that you think they are doing a great job or to recognize the specific work or tasks completed by some members of your team can also go a long way towards preventing burnout.

If your team is stretched thin, but you don’t have the resources to hire more full-time employees, New Direction Capital can help. We’ll work with your team to help you solve your problems and grow your business.  Contact us today to learn more.

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Trust is a big issue when it comes to doing business. Customers are looking to work with companies that they can depend on and that they can trust to do the job well.  For that reason, one of the best ways for a company to gain new clients is to have current customers refer their colleagues and business acquaintances to the company. But getting referrals can be tricky. You might feel awkward asking for a referral, as you might think that doing so makes you look desperate for new business. Current customers or clients might want to help you, but might not necessarily think of mentioning your company to a colleague.

Asking for referrals–and getting them–involves a bit of art. Here’s what you can do to increase your business and build your customer base.

Know Who to Ask

Some customers are going to be more likely to give you a referral than others. The key is to identify those customers and ask them for referrals. One way to get a sense of who’s likely to recommend you to other clients is to run a survey. Ask customers to complete a survey after they make a purchase or after your company provides a service. Surveying customers will give you a sense of how happy they are with your company, or not.

To get an idea of how likely people might be to refer you, one of the survey questions should be something along the lines of “how likely are you to recommend our company to others?” You can have customers answer on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not likely and 10 being very likely or have them choose “not likely” “maybe likely” or “very likely.” You can also ask the customer to explain why he or she would or wouldn’t recommend you.

When customers return the survey to you, can sort out the responses who said that they are very likely to recommend you or who chose 9 or 10 and follow up with them about a referral.

Know When to Ask

Getting referrals is about getting the timing right. For example, if a customer is coming to you with a complaint, that’s not a good time to ask him or her to refer you to others! But if a customer thanks you for helping him or her solve a problem or if a customer is providing you with a good review or testimonial, either instance can be the perfect opportunity for asking him or her to refer you to others.

Another option is to make asking for referrals part of your contract with a customer. At the start of a project, you can ask a client to give you X number of referrals if he or she is happy with your work. That might feel like a forward thing to do, but if your company ends up delivering on its promises or over-delivering on its promises, a client is likely to be more than happy to recommend you to people he or she knows.

Follow Up Afterward

When a client does give you a referral, and that referral turns into new business for your company, the polite thing to do is to follow up with the first client. Send an email or letter or call him or her. Thank the customer for the referral and state that you appreciate their help. You might consider offering the referring client an incentive as a part of saying thanks. For example, you can offer a discount on service the next time the client works with you.

Give Referrals Yourself

One way to get referrals is to freely give out referrals yourself. If you have a client who needs a particular service or product, and you know of someone (perhaps another client) who does a great job with that particular service, go ahead and make the referral. Remember that part of building relationships in business is giving more than you receive. If you’re ready to help your clients, odds are likely that they will be ready to help you when needed.

The team at New Direction Capital understands the importance of referrals for helping your business grow. To learn more about how we can help your company, contact us today.

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